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Pacific halibut landing onboard a vessel. (Photo: NOAA)

Pacific halibut mortality drops in US West Coast fisheries

  (UNITED STATES, 10/20/2017)

Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) fishing-induced mortality has declined in United States West Coast fisheries, as highlighted by the scientific annual report developed by the NWFSC’s Observer Program, NOAA informed.

The species, found in coastal waters throughout the North Pacific from Washington to central California, has long supported a directed commercial fishery in the US and Canada, but it is also caught as bycatch in fisheries that target species which share habitats with it.

The annual report, used by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) to manage bycatch in groundfish fisheries, reveals that in 2016, catch shares vessels fishing with bottom trawl nets caught 33.27 metric tons of Pacific halibut or 57 per cent of the total mortality reported for that year.

The document shows that in the analysed year the limited entry sablefish fishery caught 16.59 tonnes of Pacific halibut, or ~29 per cent of the total 2016 bycatch reported.

The report also describes historical trends in total Pacific halibut mortality for US West Coast fisheries, provides maps of Pacific halibut hotspots of bycatch, and summarizes biological data collected from Pacific halibut (lengths, weights, and viabilities).

It summarizes Pacific halibut mortality on Catch Share vessels carrying electronic monitoring systems (EM). NOAA clarifies that the current EM systems cannot account for Pacific halibut viability, a necessary component for estimating the species mortality and that observers on Catch Shares EM vessels collected viability data from Pacific halibut in 2016.

Results from this work suggest that Pacific halibut captured on EM vessels might have lower viabilities than that captured on non-EM vessels, perhaps due to spending more time out of the water.

However, the number of Pacific halibut captured and assessed for viability on EM vessels was relatively low. Therefore, definitive conclusions about the species viability on EM vessels will have to wait for more data.

The US West Coast groundfish fishery is a multi-species fishery that utilizes a variety of gear types, such as trawl nets, hook-and-line gears, and fish pots to harvest multiple species defined in the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

The groundfish FMP lists over 90 species, including a variety of rockfish, flatfish, roundfish, skates, and sharks, which are found in both state and federal waters.

Except in very limited cases, Pacific halibut caught by these fisheries is considered bycatch and must be released at-sea when possible.

At the September 2017 PFMC Meeting, the IPHC publicly thanked the NWFSC Observer Program for their work on the annual Pacific halibut bycatch report and their responsiveness to data needs. 


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